Your Questions and Comments
Please send your questions and comments in the form at the bottom of the page.
I read messages once a day, Monday through Friday, and unless I am away I respond within 48 hours. I try to answer all questions, but not all will be printed here. -LF
High Intensity Intervals Workout
Comment: Enjoyed your recent article [The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter, 2/15/12] on High Intensity Interval Training and Tabata. I agree with your comment that as we age we may need to tone down the intensity of our workouts. I am 61 and do a combo of weights, resistance and cardio. My workouts are usually 30-40 minutes. I am not a big fan of "insanity workouts" that are so much in the limelight these days. Rather than doing a highly intense workout for 15 minutes might one benefit just as much by doing a longer moderately intense routine? The problem I see with the short intense workouts is that they are too exhausting and would discourage many folks from maintaining a program such as that. If all your exercise sessions are going to be gruelfests how long might one keep that up? -Keith
LF. Good point! You can't go 100% at every workout and stick with it. Burnout happens. We can bet on it. From my perspective, 30 minutes of moderate intensity makes much more sense, with only occasional maximum efforts for personal satisfaction and record keeping.
Creatine and CLA Question
Q. I will be 70 yrs of age in Nov and since Nov. 9th of last year have gone from 316 lbs to 193 lbs. I used the Medifast 5&1 program without any exercise (since I just didn't feel like it) until May 1st when I returned to the gym after a 3 1/2 yr layoff. I am now eating a regular healthy diet of 6-7 small meals daily. I use Myoplex lite after my workouts and once more daily. I am considering using creatine and CLA as supplements and would be interested in your input. -Marshall
A. That is great progress!
Regarding supplements, I hope you will read my website supplement page.
I do like Myoplex Lite, and especially after a workout. I used creatine several years ago and did get results, included greater strength in most exercises. As far as I have been able to find out, it is safe and only a small number of people have experienced any negative side effects, which have been minor in nature anyway. If I have any concern, it is only that as far as I know there haven’t been any unbiased studies on very long-term creatine users. I have no experience with CLA but know it has received some positive reviews as an aid in establishing desired body fat percentages.
My own personal rule with any supplements is to tell my doctor what I’m doing. I have to also say that since supplements have little or no outside regulation or oversight in their production, I would want to know that they passed muster at an independent lab such as NFS or ConsumerLab. Supplement advertising is clever but claims are often greatly exaggerated and deceiving. Be sure to check my supplement page and look at some of the listed pages on specific supplements. -LF
Q. I've been reading your newsletter for a couple of years now and really enjoy it. I'm a 57 year old retired Marine. I've worked out all my life and have stayed active and fit despite some setbacks this decade (hip replacement and aortic valve replacement 5 and 6 years ago). I recently gave kettlebells a try and really like them. The kettlebell snatch in particular is one hell of a full body strength and aerobic exercise. I was wondering if you have used them at all and what your advice would be to best integrate them into a full body workout. Thanks.....Don in St. Paul, MN
A. I took a kettlebell workshop by one Pavel’s disciples and was impressed. I have used kettlebells a few times, but I'm certainly no expert. However, I can safely say that KBs can be used as stand alone equipment for total body workouts. Or they can be combined with barbells and/or bodyweight calisthenics. Personally, I like to mix things up with different options to keep training interesting. The KB snatch, as you mentioned, is excellent. I think if you add a form of squatting, overhead pressing, and a renegade row combo, you’ve things pretty well covered.
Another fine option that is easier on the joints as we get older is resistance bands, which can also be combined with kettlebell workouts. -LF
P.S. I served in the Marines way back in the 1950s. Semper Fi.
Steve Reeves' Chest Development
Q. I've always admired Steve Reeves physique but could never figure how he developed his chest.. It is the best looking chest I've ever seen. It seems to be pure bone & muscle under his chest. I don't remember seeing anyone else with that. I've tried lots of exercises but not even came close. If you can figure it out for me please let me know.. Thanks..Al wheeler
A. I would guess that genetics played a major role. But as far as the chest exercises he favored, they were pretty basic: flat bench presses; incline bench presses (with dumbbells); dumbbell lateral raises (flying motion); and parallel bar dips. Maybe an emphasis on using incline benches accounted for some of the shape he aquired, tying in the upper part of his pectorals with his anterior deltoids. I'm speculating, but he did seem to really like incline bench presses with dumbbells. More information on Reeves' workouts here. -LF
How Good are Resistance Bands?
Q. I began traveling last winter extensively and just could not get to a gym. Meetings, long hours and small town hotels with little in terms of gym facilities. I bought a set of Gold's Gym fitness bands (actually 4 sets just to get enough resistance with more bands) and it has been great. I can duplicate every weight exercise and change resistance fast and get creative angles. My fitness has actually improved. With the speed of the workout there is also a cardio benefit. What is your take on the bands (pros and cons)? -David Helms
A. I have used resistance bands and probably have not written enough about them (see: Resistance Bands). I bought a set from the BodyLastics company and I like them a lot. Still, after using the bands for a while, I wondered if I might be losing strength, even though the workouts were challenging. I didn’t happen. When I lift free weights, I use about the same poundage as before. Another thing I noticed is that I never get tendinitis when using the bands. I certainly don’t want to malign free weights, but sometimes I get a little elbow tendinitis when using them. That never happens with the bands. The only limitation that comes to mind is that if you are doing power- or Olympic-lifting you simply have to have an Olympic bar and plates. Otherwise, I think you can get great all around strength and fitness workouts with bands. They are a very affordable resistance training option. And as you have found, they are perfect while traveling.
Q.I'm 74 and I have a problem with my breast being large and my friends make fun of it while in the pool. I could lose some weight around the waist also. I'm 6'3 and weight 215 lbs. What would be the best exercise to get my breast looking better. P.S. I go to the YMCA 2 times a week mostly for cardio. -Bob
A. I have a couple of suggestions. But first, check with your doctor for a chest exam. It's important. You want to rule out any problems that may exist other than having excess fatty tissue.
In order to firm up your waist and chest you should, of course, include resistance exercises (weights or resistance bands, etc.) that work those areas -- but they should be a part of total-body workouts. And you should exercise a minimum of three days per week. Consider adding some light activity, too, such as walking, on non-workout days.
Fat loss anywhere on your body is also dependent on some calorie reduction. All the exercise in the world will not do the trick unless you follow proper dietary guidelines. Check my Nutrition page.
Do not skip the doctor exam part. Your overall health is the most important consideration before making dietary and exercise changes.
Q. I’ve got a topic I’d like you to write about. I’m a fit 70 year old (6’2” 175 lbs.) who has been working out for the last 35 years, more regularly now than before I retired.
I would like a good program for building up my stamina/endurance. I currently run on a treadmill for about 10 minutes as a warm-up before my workout. I like to get my heart rate up to 150+ before slowing down. FYI, my one-minute heart rate recovery is over 40 beats. In spite of this aerobic workout, I get winded if I go much beyond 15 minutes. I’d like a nice gradual build-up to a point where I could jog for an hour or swim for 30 minutes without having to rest. Got any suggestions?
Thanks for your Gray Iron Newsletter.
Here’s to your very good health! Cheers! -Bob B. from Berkeley, CA
A. Jogging for an hour or swimming for 30 minutes straight is well within your capacity. One primitive way to achieve either of those goals is to simply add a couple of minutes (or swim an extra lap or two) each time you train. Years ago, I ran and swam quite bit and that is how I built up my distances.
My way worked. However, there are better training methods available, designed by running and swimming coaches that should get you to your goals quicker. An Internet search will find several of them.
You might also consider interval training for shorter periods, which may accomplish your goals without being catabolic. Running is good, but I am not a fan of doing too much of it, especially as we get older. It’s tough on your joints. Some of my old long distance running buddies who stuck with that kind of training look pretty beat-up now. Not a scientific study, I know, but personal experience and observation.
Let me refer you to three of my website pages that I think might be helpful:
Which Workout is Better for Fitness?
Q. Which do you think is better overall for the body - long distance walking (5-10 km) 4 - 5 times a week or weight training at the gym twice a week with several 3 km walks throughout the week. -Fern
A. I prefer a weight training and walking combination. Certainly brisk walking is great for cardiovascular fitness, but not to include resistance exercise is a mistake. As we age, our greatest challenge is to retain or reclaim as much muscle as possible. Please read Weight Training Builds Senior Muscle.
Ask your doctor the same question and I bet he or she will agree with me.
Best Time of Day to Workout
Q. What is the best time of day to do your exercises. Are their drawbacks to early morning or after work sessions? -Hank C.
A. The best time of day to workout is the time when you are most likely to do it with regularity. Many people like to train first thing in the morning and have it over with. Some prefer midday or late afternoon. It is an individual thing. I would caution, however, that training right before bedtime often makes it tough to get to sleep. Yet I suppose there are even exceptions to that. Whenever it fits into your schedule is the right time for you. Once you have decided, though, don't let other matters steal that time from you. That is your time for yourself.
About Clarence Bass
Q. I'm a big fan of yours but I'd like to see if you are a fan of one of my other heroes for senior stuff: that is, Clarence Bass. I'm 65 yrs old, exercise a lot and follow you and Clarence as much as I can. One thing it seems that Clarence and maybe you emphasize is getting your weight down instead of up but retaining and gaining strength. That way you have less fat. What do you think? Thanks very much. -Fred from Nashville
A. Thanks, Fred. You have placed me in esteemed company. I don’t know Clarence Bass but have read many of his reports and admire his dedication and honesty.
I agree about seniors keeping our weight down — while retaining as much strength and muscle as possible. I personally weighed as much as 199-lbs (at 5’10-1/2”) in my twenties, with a waist size of 30 inches. My size seemed admirable to me then.
But gradually, over the years, I brought my weight down while staying as strong and muscular as possible. Today, at 73, I am about one inch shorter and usually weigh 160. I stay as strong as I can. But I do not use maximum weight, low-rep, all-out reps to failure. As I do not believe it is smart to do that kind of lifting after passing the half-century mark.
Q. I notice that Nordic Tracks are not mentioned in the exercise equipment in the home gym articles. Are they poor exercise machines? I have an old one in my garage and was thinking maybe it's not good and I should buy a tread mill or some other type of equipment, what do you think about that? -Michael H.
A. I don't think I mention equipment by brand name in my articles (unless it happens to be a piece of equipment I actually use myself), instead leaving the brand names, such as Nordic Track, to the advertisements.
Occasionally, I used a Nordic Track cross-country ski device years ago and remember it as providing a taxing workout. I also did some actual cross-country skiing and know what an all around effort it takes.
The only thing negative I can say about the Nordic Track device is that it would bore me using it as my only form of cardio work. A treadmill would be the same if that were my only method. Right now, I'm mixing hiking in the hills (which never bores me) with a treadmill. Variety is important to me, and I think most people are better off if they mix things up.
I would say that if your Nordic Track is gathering dust in a garage you must not enjoy it that much. I'd sell it. If pressed to choose between a Nordic Track and a treadmill, I'd choose the treadmill.
Is She Doing Too Much Cardio?
Q.Can you do too much cardio at age 73? My mother does sometimes 7 days a week on the treadmill for at least an hour (incline to 15). No weight training. She looks pale, frail, skinny. Is this OK? -Carol
A. I think an hour every day on a treadmill is too much, particularly for someone your mother's age and being frail. Her training would be better balanced if she were to cut back on the cardio and add some resistance training, using weights, bands, or bodyweight exercises. As we age, wasting away of muscle is a serious threat.
A breakdown like the following might be considered: 30 min. treadmill or walking 4-5 days per week. Resistance training, 20 to 30 min. 2-3 days. The cardio and resistance work can be done on the same days. Do the resistance training first. A little soft stretching (5-10 min.) is good, too. Be active, but take 1 or 2 days off from all formal exercise each week.
You say she is looks "pale, frail, skinny." That doesn't sound good. What does her doctor say? If she is frail her dietary habits ought to be looked into, as well.
Best Thigh Exercise After Hip Replacement
Q. What's the best thigh exercise to build muscle when the man has had both hips replaced years ago? I do nautilus curls and extensions 3x per week and have for years. -Paul
A. It is my understanding that there is a life expectancy of hip replacements and certain activities may accelerate wear and tear. I would discuss with your doctor before adding squats, with or without weights, or dead lifts. You might also mention water aerobics programs. Though classified as cardiovascular exercise, they are resistance movements as well, but without the jarring of running or jumping on land. Check out this page: Water Aerobics. Above all, explain your plan to your doctor.
Defeating Turkey Flap
Q. Hi Gray Iron, I just discovered your wonderful site!!! I have started exercising again. Over the past five years I have been inactive and have gained 30 lbs. and the extra skin that comes along with it. I have great posture so I do not look fat. As my arms get bigger, what is the best way to get rid of the turkey flap under the triceps. Thanks for the great new part of my training education -Jim
A. Welcome to the site. And thanks for the kind words. You may want to subscribe to my free twice-monthly newsletter and/or the blog, under "What's New." You'll find the forms on any page at Senior-Exercise-Central.
Keeping a healthy body weight and staying in firm, muscular condition minimizes "turkey flap" as we age. And exercises that bring the triceps into play help greatly.
However, I always like to point out that "spot reducing" is not possible. Endless sets of isolation exercises such as triceps extensions may seem logical, but as fat burners they do very little.
A few triceps isolation movements are fine, but most of your time should be invested in exercises that bring multiple muscle groups into play all at once. Upper body work that requires pushing away from your body (pressing weights or your bodyweight at various angles) will provide more bang-for-the-buck than isolation movements.
Charles Atlas Course
Q. I'm 63 and thinking about the Charles Atlas program. Really would like your thoughts and advice on that. -Edward Feely
A. The Charles Atlas program is based on an exercise method he called “Dynamic Tension.” Its basic premise is to create muscle tension, and increased strength, by pitting one muscle or muscle group against another. His courses also include some bodyweight calisthenics, nutrition advice, and self-defense movements.
Personally, I see no reason to limit your self to a narrow progressive resistance exercise concept. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with the exercises in the Atlas courses. However, the option of including weight training, I think, is a better way to go.
Some historians say that Charles Atlas himself included weight training to build his strength and fitness, but later belittled weights in order to sell his courses, which did not include them.
Some of the same historians say that he originated the pejorative term “muscle bound,” in reference to those who weight trained. The term became a part of popular lexicon and decades later athletic coaches still were warning athletes that barbells would hinder their performance. Today’s athletes and coaches laugh at this, of course, realizing that the description may only apply to some extreme steroid-bloated pro-bodybuilders.
In short, I think you might be better served by progressive resistance training that may include free weights, resistances bands, etc, though bodyweight calisthenics may also be incorporated in an over all program.
Attaining Muscle Defintion
Q. I have been trying for months to get the vein that runs the length of the bicep to become as prominent as the vein in your right arm (bicep)!! I see a vein over my right bicep as well, but not at all prominent as yours!
Do I need to lift heavier weights, or increase the repetitions to get the veins to respond in the same way as does yours? Finally I am beginning to get some definition in the bicep area after Lord knows how long! What would you recommend that I do to see more rapid development in that area? I am 56y.o. and am probably in the best shape of my life right now, but I'm far from where I would like to be. 2 - 3 days a week I play a solid 45 minutes to an hour of racquetball. On days that I am not playing racquetball I am working on developing muscle(s) and strength. Recently I have incorporated kettlebells into my workout routine and love working out with these things. Have developed a lot more strength from using the kettlebells which in return has also helped me immensely in my "power" game of racquetball!
Also I need to alter my diet as my blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels are relatively high. My cardiologist wants me to cut back on certain things from my diet (which is very difficult for me to do) such as sugar, sodium, certain fats, carbs, etc. Finding it very difficult to discipline myself enough to eat the right foods, drink plenty of water, and all those things that I know I should be doing, but don't. That's where I lack the discipline!
Anyway, I want to tell you that I really enjoy reading your newsletters!! You put out so much good, useful, information. When I see your near perfect physique, it gives me a lot of motivation to hit those weights and exercise harder. You look terrific!! Love the striations in the pecs!! How do you develop the striations?!?! -Heinz
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with those of us who strive to achieve the same results you have achieved!! You've set the "bar" for us younger folks!! -Heinz
A. The prominent vein and striations you ask about are really the result of having a low percentage of body-fat and, I suppose, certain inherited genetic characteristics. Plus, in the photo I am holding a pair of dumbbells, which creates tightening of muscles.
As for low rep heavy lifting vs. lighter weights and higher reps, I use both methods, changing routines with some frequency. However, at my age (72) I stay away from all-out maximum poundage efforts. That is, I never train to failure.
I have had some experience with kettlebells, too, and I agree with you that they are fun.
I think following your cardiologist's advice will be the answer to lowering your blood pressure, glucose levels, etc., plus decreasing body-fat percentage and resulting in maximum muscle definition.
At 56, you are still a youth!
Breaking Bad Habits
Q.I can not break the circle of eating and lack of exercise. At 59 I am a hard working sales professional however I have not been in the gym for almost five years..sound familiar. On top of that I have a bad right shoulder and left knee which only adds to the many excuses I give myself. Your thoughts on how to break this downward spiral? -Jim
A. Make a commitment to get in shape to someone you care about. Then make a plan as to 1) what you want to accomplish; and 2) establish a realistic time frame (set a deadline) in which to do it.
Start by going to your doctor and get your shoulder and knee checked out. Tell the doctor you want to get in shape. Find out if there are any restrictions.
Join a gym or develop a home gym. Get a training partner, a trainer, or join a class. Involving others will strengthen your commitment.
As far as eating is concerned, I like Weight Watchers, the Zone plans, or, of course, my own way of eating, described in my books, at: http://www.cafepress.com/grayiron.
But you MUST take that first step. And only you can do that. Then follow through.
Best of luck to you. You CAN do it!
Q. What sort of impression have Seniors found doing Heavyhands. Those very small Dumbbells that you can Push, Pump, Press at whatever pace. Invented by MD Leonard Schwartz who I think now is in his early 80's. -George
A. I have practiced similar workouts, holding light dumbbells while doing various exercises linked together and without rest between them. It is a way of combining muscle building with cardio for a total body workout. Occasionally, I do this form of training for variety, but not as a long-term routine. For me, it's simply a matter of preference.
I believe Heavyhands can be effective for those who enjoy that kind of training. However, if your objective is to maximize your strength and/or muscle growth potential, handling heavier weights is required. Of course that is not possible doing typical Heavyhands workouts. But, over all, I think they can be good workouts with a degree of added strength and muscle resulting, along with good cardiovascular fitness.
Clarence Bass, a senior Mr. American winner, has written about Heavyhands workouts. You can read his comments here.
Please keep me posted as to your experience with the training.
The Gray Iron Super Shake and Gas
Q. I think your breakfast shake is terrific. Unlike others, it is truly delicious and I cannot wait to have it each day. However, one huge downside is the utterly vile gas it causes me. I am around students all day and I find it impossible to camouflage the odors. "Beano" doesn't help much. Any suggestions? I can't believe I'm the only one with the problem. Many thanks! –John
A. Honestly, no one has mentioned this before. However, as you said, it is hard to believe you are the only one with this problem. My wife is a teacher, so she can imagine the difficulty it would present, being around students all day.
Try tweaking the recipe to find a solution. I am speculating, but I suspect the soy milk might be the culprit. I read somewhere that soy has that effect on some people. We have tried the recipe with nonfat milk but prefer the soy flavor and texture. You might try low-fat milk, or ask someone in a natural foods store about a substitute for soy. I have never used them, but I see boxes of almond and rice milk on their shelves.
Maybe someone else has experienced this problem and will share with us how they solved it. . . .
From William, a Family Nurse Practitioner and Certified Diabetes Educator:
"The most likely suspected food substance would be lactose, the disaccharide sugar found in milk. It is comprised of glucose and galactose. Lactose intolerance is caused in part by a shortage of the digestive enzyme lactase, which is a common condition in adults, and is more common in certain racial groups. Fortunately it is easy to identify lactose intolerance as one will react with flatulence and other symptoms of gastrointestinal upset when drinking milk. (Yogurt if processed by live and viable cultures will have the lactose eliminated provided the yogurt product did not add any undigested lactose containing products, and by design can usually be eliminated as a cause of lactose intolerance) Regarding soy milk as a suspect ingredient for causing flatulence and other symptoms of gastrointestinal upset... What I am about to disclose will likely be something that the average person has never considered. Examine the label on your soy milk and look for the ingredient "carrageenan". Quite often soy milk drinkers react adversely to carrageenen, and blame their gas and gastro-intestinal upset on soy when it is is the added carrageenan component that is the cause of the problem."
Coming Back After a Broken Ankle
Q. "Hello, I am 53 and I used to teach aerobics. I had still been doing a work-out at home but in Sept. I broke my ankle. I am up and around now and back at work but where do I start at with the exercising. I don't want to start doing too much but I want to get back to working out again regularly. thanks, Lois Noland."
A. First, talk with your doctor about beginning exercising again. You are right about not wanting to do too much too soon and suffer a setback. If you get an okay, start out slowly, perhaps by regular daily walks, gradually increasing the distance and pace. Add resistance exercise gradually, too, such as weight training, exercise bands, and/or body weight calisthenics.
Depending on the type of aerobics you taught, I would start that last. By that I mean, if you were teaching high impact movements you want to be certain you have given your ankle plenty of time to heal and the surrounding muscle and tendons are ready for the challenge of aerobics class movements.
Squash & Tennis Concerns
Q. I'm 65, not overweight and remain active with both squash and tennis. A regular exercise/stretching routine keeps me limber and injury free. However, my concern relates to joints particularly hips. Nowhere have I been able to find information on danger signs to warn that the joints are being damaged. What are the warning signs that its time to slow down? Sure, I experience soreness from time to time but it always has proved to be muscular or tendon related. --Stan
A. If you are certain that any soreness is muscle related, I have to assume it has been confirmed by a doctor.
An orthopedic specialist wrote recently that "running does not cause arthritis. But if you already have arthritis, it will make it worse."
The stop-start nature of especially squash is tough stuff. But if it is not causing joint problems, you are still enjoying it, and your doctor agrees, I'd say keep it up.
I stopped hard martial arts workouts in my late 50s when getting out of bed the next morning became a chore. The body sends signals. We just have to listen to them.
How Often Should I Workout?
Q. I am a somewhat fit senior (63). My question is how often should I work out. My routine is Mon.(chest) Wed.(legs) Fri.(back) and two days off. --Fred
A. If you are working out three days per week, I think you would be better off doing a full body workout each of the three days, rather than following a split routine format. Visit my "Beginner Program" on the web site for some ideas about a total body workout.
Dave Brubeck and Aging
Hi Logan: Just wanted to say thanks again for a really interesting news letter. You brought back some memories with your article about Dave Brubeck. I saw him many, many years ago at the Hollywood Bowl. I'm glad to hear that he's still around. I wish I had been to the Blackhawk. What names they had there. Living here in the L.A. area I never seemed to have gotten the chance. Earl Bostic! Especially loved his Harlem Nocturne. And I still have several vinyl LPs of Cal Tjader. Listening to him got me interested in latin jazz and I have several old conga drums I bang on now and then.
My very best to you and your wife! --Dale, Temple City, CA
Note from LF: Thanks, Dale. The Brubeck item has gotten quite a response.